Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Meg Thomas-Clapp.
Meg, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
I was raised in a church where women were limited to children’s and women’s ministries. When I first felt a call to ministry in a more comprehensive way, I was met with opposition from church leadership. I was often told that I’d make a great preacher’s wife someday. In High School, as I sought to make my faith my own, I left the church I was raised in looking for a home in a church that more fully realized the gospel ministry in all people’s lives regardless of gender or other differences. From then and into my college years I explored and learned from many faith traditions; I carried with me a love of scripture and hymns from my acapella upbringing, a deep desire to see the broader arts as worship and a tool for ministry from my time with non-denominational churches, a rootedness in prayer from my charismatic circles, a passion for justice and facilitating change from the mainline churches.
This journey led me to volunteer in many types of ministries while pursuing a biology degree with a pre-med concentration. When I was a senior in college applying for medical school, my mentor, Dr. Dan Brannon, invited me to consider if medical school was truly the next step for me. He highlighted what he saw as my passions and my calling: ministering to youth and children at my church, providing pastoral care to other college students as a resident assistant, serving as chair of a ministry program for at risk youth, and leading in worship musically, liturgically, and even preaching at my church and on campus. What he said resonated with me and the call I had felt so many years before, but I had seen and heard the male description of minister for so long I didn’t believe that my voice and passion could be that of a minister.
I chose to take some time off after graduation working at a hospital, serving as a volunteer assistant children’s minister, and attending a lay ministry school at night. This is when I began to find words to describe what I experienced ministry as: ministry is sharing good news through actions or words wherever you find yourself. My work in the hospital was ministry to our patients and to the other staff. My role in friendships was ministry. My service was ministry. We are all called to be ministers no matter where we find ourselves.
During this season I was introduced to the Baptist church, the traditions of priesthood of all believers, and the four fragile freedoms. I found a home among those who saw my call, passion, and voice as valid- even needed. I fell in love with a place where diversity is brought together and celebrated as we worship God and follow in Christ’s footsteps to love all people. My desire to serve in this place was realized by others and I was encouraged to pursue a seminary degree and ordination. During this season, I also met my husband, a Baptist preacher, and was soon to fulfill the words of my church home and become a preacher’s wife—but he would be a preacher’s husband as well!
Just before beginning seminary and a few months before our wedding, my fiancé and I were contacted about an opportunity to pastor a church in Bali, Indonesia for an interim. I put seminary on hold for us to take a “working honeymoon” as we served at Gateway Community Church, an English language church with members from many different denominational backgrounds from all over the world. We learned much about doing ministry together and in a context that embraced so many of the different styles and traditions my journey had exposed me to.
During seminary, my ministry grew under the mentorship of my local congregation, First Baptist Church, Austin, Texas, where I was ordained and learned alongside many amazing women and men who are seeking new ways to preach the gospel through actions and words. I served as the chaplain for the Austin Urban Pilgrimage and on the leadership and training team with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, drawing on my ecumenical experiences to create worship, service, and discipleship opportunities for young adults as they discerned what a call to social justice meant within their context.
In November 2015, I accepted my first full-time call as minister to youth and young adults at McLean Baptist Church in northern Virginia, where I currently serve.
What have been the greatest joys you have experienced in your ministry journey?
For me, the heartbeat of ministry is found in the ordinary. Our God became one of us and entered into the ordinary and is still present in every moment of our lives. The greatest joys are when the veil falls back and God’s presence is revealed in the ordinary: a pastoral visit over a cup of coffee, at the dog park with a stranger, while folding laundry with a congregant, in stories shared while driving the church bus full of youth. The joy that calls me deeper into ministry is found in the midst of us all ministering to each other in the darkest, brightest, and ordinary parts of our lives.
What have been the greatest challenges?
My first full-time call to serve at MBC has been challenging, as any first call might be, and unforeseen circumstances led to greater responsibilities as my associate and I found ourselves leading the church through the absence of a senior pastor shortly after arriving. I have had more opportunities to preach, provide pastoral care for congregants, administer and lead in the church than I imagined would arise in my brief time as an associate pastor so far. While the responsibility has been challenging, I have learned much about my ministry, my abilities, and my areas of needed growth. I have also seen congregants from diverse backgrounds come together to ask “What is God calling us to?” and eagerly seek to minister in this period of transition.
Who have been your best sources of encouragement and inspiration in ministry?
I am so thankful to be married to an advocate for women in ministry. My husband has never doubted that my call is just as valid as his own, even in moments when I have. He has taught me about amplifying the voices of minority groups that are often ignored and what support looks like. As a clergy couple, seeking to discern the ministerial call for two, he has lived into non-traditional ministry opportunities while we followed my call to seminary and even to serve here in northern Virginia. He champions women in ministry and supports by being quiet so that women’s voices can be heard in places where they might be shut out and speaking on their behalf in places where they are not respected or welcomed. I am inspired and encouraged by his ministry and we draw on each other for strength in our weaker areas and accountability in our blind spots as we both seek to follow the call to be pastors.
While there are many men who have encouraged and inspired me along the way, it is the example of women ministers that energize me to live into who I am called to be. Rev. Dr. Tina Bailey, CBF field personnel in Bali Indonesia, teaches me about the power creativity as her ministry utilizing dance and art brings love and hope into some of the darkest moments such as those awaiting the death penalty. Rev. Lee Ann Rathbun, who served on my ordination council and as my CPE supervisor, inspires me to provide a pastoral presence in difficult situations and speak love through curiosity and care in building relationships. Rev. Dr. Meredith Stone and Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus, two of the first Baptist women preachers I met, craft beautifully powerful messages and seek to empower other women ministers to embrace their call and strengthen me to find my own voice.
And this list of women is growing because of organizations like BWIM! For so long I struggled with my call because I wasn’t “what a minister looked like.” After returning from a recent BWIM gathering and being strengthened by the stories of so many women ministers, I realized that my experience that weekend was what my husband has experienced his whole life as he looked at the men standing in pulpits and leading ministries. I was finally able to recognize myself as among these women ministers, to see that we are all “what a minister looks like.”